Articles | Volume 7, issue 4
Research article
18 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 18 Jul 2013

Surface motion of active rock glaciers in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA: inventory and a case study using InSAR

L. Liu, C. I. Millar, R. D. Westfall, and H. A. Zebker

Abstract. Despite the abundance of rock glaciers in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA, few efforts have been made to measure their surface flow. Here we use the interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) technique to compile a benchmark inventory describing the kinematic state of 59 active rock glaciers in this region. In the late summer of 2007, these rock glaciers moved at speeds that range from 14 cm yr−1 to 87 cm yr−1, with a regional mean value of 53 cm yr−1. Our inventory reveals a spatial difference: rock glaciers in the southern Sierra Nevada moved faster than the ones in the central Sierra Nevada. In addition to the regional mapping, we also conduct a case study to measure the surface flow of the Mount Gibbs rock glacier in fine spatial and temporal detail. The InSAR measurements over this target reveal (1) that the spatial pattern of flow is correlated with surface geomorphic features and (2) a significant seasonal variation of flow speed whose peak value was 48 cm yr−1in the fall of 2007, more than twice the minimum value observed in the spring of 2008. The seasonal variation lagged air temperatures by three months. Our finding on the seasonal variation of surface speed reinforces the importance of a long time series with high temporal sampling rates to detect possible long-term changes of rock glacier kinematics in a warming climate.